Strange Times in Alabama

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It has been often said that the truth can be stranger than fiction. Nowhere is that adage more appropriate than when dealing with the Alabama political landscape. The week ending on Friday, February 10, 2017 was yet another example of just how fact trumps (no pun intended) fiction. Consider for just a moment the following:

  • Governor Bentley, in his State of the State address, spoke for over 75 minutes outlining his expectations for the coming Legislative Session without getting into any specifics about the future of the Regional Care Organizations (RCO) that were projected to save Medicaid from massive increases in funding needs;
  • Governor Bentley discussed in that same State of the State address his plan to construct four (4) mega-prisons at an estimated cost of $800 million. There is no requirement that the Bonds be sold at public sale. Included in the authorized uses of the Bond proceeds is the payment of Capitalized Interest. It should be noted that previously Capitalized Interest was limited to a period of one (1) year. This legislation would change that requirement and allow for the payment of Capitalized Interest for a period of up to three (3) years. As an additional secondary source of repayment of the Bonds a portion of the 1 mil ad valorem tax currently earmarked for the Department of Human Resources (DHR) has been pledged. (It should be noted that there are a number of Legislators who have far different ideas about the size and scope of this project. Expect numerous amendments to be offered as this legislation starts to move through the Legislative Process.) In his remarks the Governor did not address the elephant in the room – what is U. S. District Judge Myron Thompson going to require of the State of Alabama as a consequence of the lawsuit now pending in his court dealing with mental health care in the Alabama Department of Corrections?
  • Both the Education Trust Fund Budget (ETF) and the General Fund Budget (GF) were introduced in the Legislature on Thursday, February 9, 2017. The ETF includes a request for an additional $20 million for a first class Pre-K program. Medicaid will be underfunded. Corrections will be underfunded. Both of these Departments will be underfunded before we find out what Judge Thompson will order and before we find out if the federal government will fully fund the CHIP program. If the funding for CHIP goes back to traditional 80/20 funding there will be and additional $90 million short fall. If that happens, State Finance Director Clinton Carter has said that there will either be a Special Session to reassess the General Fund Budget or the state will immediately go into proration.
  • Appointment of Luther Strange as the new U. S Senator for Alabama was expected. This appointment has raised questions as to whether there was an agreement between Strange and Governor Bentley about the purported investigation by the Attorney General’s Office into allegations against Bentley. Time, and a new Attorney General, will shed some light on that question. Further fueling questions about the appointment arose when Senator Strange appointed his former Chief Deputy Attorney General Kevin Turner as his Senate Chief of Staff. Strange had fired Turner as his Chief Deputy in 2015 for alleged conflicts of interest in the Mike Hubbard trial.
  • House Minority Leader Craig Ford announced his decision to step down as Leader. Consensus opinions had Representative Rod Scott as the odds-on favorite to succeed Ford. On Wednesday, Representative Anthony Daniels was elected as Minority Leader and Representative Elaine Beech as Democratic Caucus Chair. Time will tell what impact that will have on the Democratic Caucus in the House and how effective the Caucus will be.
  • In the House Republican Caucus meeting last week Representative Ed Henry mounted an attack and challenge towards current Republican Majority Leader Mickey Hammon. Calmer heads prevailed but there is a simmering fire that is not likely to disappear anytime soon.

Other than the above issues the week was relatively calm. The Alabama Constitution does not permit Floor Action on legislation until the third legislative day which will be Tuesday, February 14, Valentine’s Day the day set out to honor love and relationships. Some have said that everything is made for love. When that is the case you can count on someone (or multiple someones) being taken advantage of. There have been two of the permitted 30 Legislative Days consumed. This coming week things will begin to heat up. There is a full schedule of Committee Meetings and we can all expect that there will be renewed calls for the House Judiciary Committee to restart its Impeachment Investigation. The best advice that can be had is that we should all keep our heads downs and keep our mouths shut. What will happen will happen.

Questions have come to The Strategy Report about how we make up the things reported herein. There is no way to make up what goes on in Alabama politics. The truth is absolutely stranger than fiction.
The Alabama House will reconvene at 1:00pm on Tuesday, February 14, 2017
The Alabama Senate will reconvene at 2:00pm on Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The views and opinions contained in this report do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the clients of Public Strategies, LLC.